07 Sep, 2023

Rives Taylor on the role of Cradle to Cradle Certified® in advancing the circular economy

In this interview, we speak to Rives Taylor, Principal Director of Gensler Research Institute Resilience Center, to find out how he believes Cradle to Cradle Certified® can help the building and construction industry transition to a more circular and sustainable approach. Rives is a recognized global expert in resilient, high-performance, and sustainable design.

What is the role of Cradle to Cradle Certified in advancing the circular economy in general? 

As a designer and architect in the built environment, I design for the long term. I also design recognising that everything I and Gensler do has both a community impact and an individual impact as it relates to both the environmental systems and human health. We’ve only recently started to get our arms around the notion of a better understanding of materiality – what our world is built from, what it has cost, what it looks like; but also understanding that most of our man-made materials are things that we create for the long term, and yet sometimes we throw them away after five years. The circularity approach, which is something that I’ve been teaching for a number of years, is slowly coming to architecture. The idea that there is a long-term life – cause and consequence – and that we need to understand where the material comes from, and where it goes, in other words, the genealogy of materials.

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and various others have created the tools for us to start down that path – which, by the way, is very challenging for my design colleagues as until now, they haven’t thought about materials in such a deep way. So the education as well as the certification becomes extremely important in order to make better decisions.

How are design and architecture benefiting from the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard? 

The firm with which I work, Gensler, designs everything from new products and brands, say a wine label, to the second tallest building in the world. In that range of architecture, materiality (interior finishes, furnishings, etc.) a consistent approach to understanding the benefits of not just the vendor’s large picture view of that genealogy – the background of the material – but across projects with perhaps the same client, is really important.

The European taxonomy is based on the idea of having a consistent vocabulary or a consistent measurement that includes sometimes targeting, for example reducing emissions or increasing the biodiversity support of the production material. This is important for us because it’s not something we think about regularly. As designers, that material footprint is still something that we’re still struggling to get our arms around. Circularity in particular concerns operations, often after we are long gone, but yet as designers for this long-term built environment, we need to start to understand the lifecycle of our products and their impact on the environment and our human community.

How do you see Cradle to Cradle Certified bringing change in your industry and transformation?

Over the last five to ten years, as a design firm of the scale that Gensler encompasses (650 people, 50 offices, almost 1.5 billion square feet of building and interiors design per year) we’ve been trying to understand a consistent methodology for materiality. We’ve looked at many of the protocols and in fact, in some ways, there are too many – where do we start? What do we use for the interiors and furnishings, versus the core and shell, or the streets and infrastructure?

The implication of creating a consistent approach across those organisational bands, looking at product, looking at built environment, looking at packaging, or things that we may not be directly connected to, like cosmetics or consumer products (for the clients that we design for) – understanding those clients’ aspirations through a consistent tool like Cradle to Cradle makes a lot of sense to us. We’re not there yet though – the approachability, the affordability, the vocabulary, is still something that we need to get used to. And while the Cradle to Cradle focus is, in my mind, head and shoulders above many others, we still have to find a way for our teams to feel comfortable using these new tools.

What does “Made for tomorrow” mean to you?

Here we are in this amazing city of Amsterdam, and everything around us was made for tomorrow, in some cases, hundreds of years ago. The built environment does not disappear after we’re done designing and building it. It’s not a piece of art that has a short life. It’s certainly not a comestible or consumer product that ends up in the trash or waste within two weeks. It’s something that has long-term impact on human inhabitants, the natural world, and the larger global issues such as carbon.

So “Made for tomorrow” is about learning from yesterday, continuing to use what worked, and perhaps tweaking it. It’s perhaps elevating our notion of flexibility, durability, and with the climate-related challenges we now face, it’s the ecological footprint, but also resilience – can it respond and continue to operate today and tomorrow in a way that does not adversely impact the long term or adversely impact the human and natural environment in which it sits. Made for tomorrow is a continuity in thinking – learning from the past, using what we have today and doing better in the next few years, while thinking strategically for the long term.